An ALS patient with complete paralysis became the first known person in his condition to use a brain implant to communicate, and one of the first things he asked for was to hear a Tool album.
Scientists were able to communicate with the late-stage ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patient using a brain implant that allows him to select letters and form sentences. “The neurological disease destroys the nerves that control movement,” per Science.org, “and most patients die within five years of diagnosis. When a person with ALS can no longer speak, they can use an eye-tracking camera to select letters on a screen.”
The patient in question, who is now 36, began working with a research team at the University of Tübingen in 2018. At the time, he could still move his eyes and told the team he wanted “an invasive implant to try to maintain communication with his family, including his young son.” His wife and sister provided written consent for the surgery.
Since then, he lost facial movement, making him the first known patient to communicate with complete paralysis of his body.
Initially, progress with communicating via implant was slow. But eventually the patient was able to form dozens of sentences at a rate of about one character per minute: “Goulash soup and sweet pea soup;” “I would like to listen to the album by Tool loud;” and “I love my cool son.”
The researchers succeeded by sending audible “neurofeedback” tones that the patient could then modify to reach a target pitch by using the implant to answer “yes” or “no” to groups of letters and eventually single letters. He was able to explain to the team that he modulated the tone by trying to move his eyes, but did not always succeed. On 107 of 135 days reported in the study could he match a series of target tones with 80% accuracy, and only on 44 of those 107 could he produce an intelligible sentence, according to the Science.org report.
Sadly, the Wyss Center scientists conducting the research said that the patient’s ability to spell has decreased, and he now “mostly answers yes-or-no questions” partly due to scar tissue around the implant. The research team has committed to maintaining the device as long as he continues to use it.
Going by the timing of the study, it could very well be that the patient was asking to hear Tool’s 2019 album, Fear Inoculum. Hopefully, the research team complied, and blasted it loudly.